SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 12, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Columbia University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 12, 2023, a 24-year-old student at Columbia University’s School of General Studies was assaulted and injured after he hung flyers of Israelis who had been abducted by Hamas.

The attack occurred against the backdrop of a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that left over 1,000 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and more than 200 abducted, and the subsequent Israeli military bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of mid-November, has reportedly killed more than 11,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions around speech on campus in the United States and across the world.

According to the injured student, the suspect joined him and a group of other students who were hanging flyers that showed the name and photos of Israelis who Hamas had abducted. Later in the day, the injured student reported that he saw the suspect wearing a bandana over her face and ripping the fliers off the wall. When he confronted her, she attacked him with a stick, fracturing one of his fingers and cutting him.

The prosecutors assigned to the case charged the suspect with second- and third-degree assault as hate crimes, in addition to harassment and weapons possession.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a violent assault on a student in apparent retaliation for their exercise of the freedom of expression, and about violence that targets particular ideas or student populations. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such acts chill academic freedom and harm democratic society generally.